Ms. Rhee's show trial

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

D.C. SCHOOLS Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee stands accused, it seems, of trying to manage her budget in a way that will do the least harm to students. Not a crime, you might think -- unless, like Ms. Rhee's accusers on the D.C. Council, you are more interested in scoring political points than in hearing what she is doing for children.

Ms. Rhee was called before the council Thursday to explain the layoffs of 388 employees, including 266 teachers and other educators. She provided convincing evidence of the budget pressures leading to this month's reduction in force. She offered solid reasons for the hiring of some 900 teachers last spring and summer, and held out an olive branch to the council -- saying she never intended to blame it for the layoffs. She made clear that her goal was to save summer school as an option for as many children as possible.

This, by the way, was no secret; we referred to Ms. Rhee's efforts to save summer school on these pages Sept. 23. It might help, in fact, if council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) got on the phone when Ms. Rhee called. It's also clear, in the opinion of budget experts we consulted, that Ms. Rhee has the authority to cut now, with plans to restore summer school, as long as she submits a reprogramming later. So exclamations of surprise at her plans and accusations of law-breaking have little credibility.

The real cause of the anger with Ms. Rhee is her assault on the entrenched special interests that helped make District schools a national disgrace. How else to explain the extraordinary efforts of the American Federation of Teachers to demonize her? How else to interpret the total lack of interest among Ms. Rhee's critics on the council in hearing her examples of some of the bad teachers who were terminated as a result of the reduction in force? Why hasn't the council bothered to conduct a similar inquisition about the 2,500 other city workers who have lost their jobs in the past year?

We've urged Ms. Rhee and her boss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, to make greater efforts to reach out to the council, and we stand by that advice. But reaching out is of no use if the other side won't hear you in good faith.


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